Way back at E3 in 2017, there was a small announcement from Focus Home Interactive with regards to a game that was in development by Asobo Studio. A young woman and a boy fleeing from ensuing armoured guards through bloody pools littered with dead bodies eventually finding themselves in a church surrounded by thousands of rats. From that very early moment, I was intrigued by this game and what it could involve.
Nearly 2 years later and I have it in my hands ready to play and I have to say; the wait was truly worth it. Set in France in the Dark Ages and the rise of the great Plague we meet Amicia De Rune, the daughter Béatrice De Rune and sister of Hugo.
I will just say as well that the above trailer contains actual in game footage. Its not full of stuff that looks good on camera, but when you get the game it fails to deliver on anything you have seen.
We start the story in the forests of the De Rune estate with Amicia and her father being talked through a very nicely integrated training to the games controls as well as finding a bit about the family. Amicia’s younger brother is sick and her mother is trying to cure him of his illness. Due to his long standing illness, Amicia hasn’t actually spent much time with him during his short life, so they may as well be strangers to each other.
After a while of moving through the beautiful scenery, learning how to use your weapon (a sling) and killing a wild boar, Amicia’s pet dog who has been with them from the start of the game decides to run off as all cheeky pets do, giving chase Amicia eventually hears the distant howls of her dog in pain. When she gets closer to the scene of him laying by the edge of a small hole in the ground she attempts to approach to help which is when a mass of rats grabs him, ripping him apart and dragging him into their den.
From that moment, Amicia and her father run to the family home to warn her mother. At the very point where you first meet your mother the Inquisition attack and there the story starts. You need to guide your brother out of the estate and get him to safety.
The game is played in a third person perspective and the main focus is on stealth within the game. Yes, there is combat features within the game, but you are given a choice of how to approach any encounters you come across. You can simply attack anyone you encounter from a distance or use stealth tactics to sneak past. Normally the later is the best option as attacking will get the attention of any other enemies that are close by and with a lack of actual hand to hand combat you will be killed on sight with no questions asked. Throw into the mix a strong sense of puzzle solving along the way which not only includes the puzzles of navigating a room and moving things round to open your route, but how you will use light sources to help you along your way and how you will distract the guards that are hunting you down and for me, this game has everything needed to make it a huge success. It is a relatively linear route styled game where you can’t really go off track much, but does also allow for some exploration off your given route where you find collectables within the game.
The true stars of this game however are the rats that carry the Plague. Swarming in for the attack at the first chance they get and it does look amazing. Layers and layers of them all falling over each other to get to their food; people. Throughout the game even with all the rats on screen, there was never a single drop in frame rate. One good thing that stands on your side is that they are afraid of any light sources, so as long as you are near one you will remain safe. That also plays in your favour; encounter an enemy in the game walking through the rats holding a lantern and snuff it out watching the swarm of rats engulf him bringing him to his death.
As I said, you start off the game with a trusty sling which you can kill enemies with, however the further into the game you go, you can upgrade the sling, but you also discover new items which you can add to your inventory which will help you navigate the scenery. For instance, some enemies wear armour on their heads which your sling will have no impact on. You meet a young alchemist relatively early in the game who you take under your wing, as the game progresses, he unlocks more recipes for the craftables needed. One of which is Devorantis. Aim this at an enemy wearing a helmet and he will be forced to remove his helmet leaving him open to be killed with the use of your sling. Now, I would have preferred being able to assign certain things to quick slots somehow in the game rather than having to open up your weapon wheel every time you need to change what you are firing and when it is full, there is a total of 8 things to choose from and can start to get confusing. The game doesn’t slow down either when you are choosing what to use, so if an enemy is close at hand ready to come after you, the chances are you will get killed pretty easily.
There are other items at hand. See the dying embers of a fire or unlit lantern in the distance surrounded by rats? Well, craft and throw the Ignifer to light these and see the rats evacuate that area pretty quick. The sling is actually one of the least used items within the game (or at least it was for me) even though you do use it to fire projectiles of various forms. The basic stone within that sling isn’t needed as much.
The scenery within the game is something I fell in love with. It is truly beautiful to behold as well as hauntingly scary at times. To see the death toll around you as dead bodies literally lay piled in their hundreds creating a path for you to navigate was amazing. Asobo studios have certainly tried to bring the reality of the times to life (or death, whichever way you look at it) and it does make you realise what a horrific time the black death really was. Then you move to the narrow streets of the towns of the area, people hiding in their homes away from you as you approach. Dead bodies hanging from gallows (which you can shoot down to attract rats) and then crawling through the pools of blood and mutilated bodies underneath those gallows to escape from the Inquisition guards who are looking for you.
Of course, at that time in history, the church played a massive part within the world and enter our unfolding storyline.
Now, I will try to keep this as spoiler free as I possibly can in my next part. Hugo carries an unknown virus within his blood. At the head of the Church is Vitalis. Now (trying to keep my personal views of the Church out of this) Vitalis is motivated by faith, but as with the church in general, he is motivated by a personal faith. Rather than trying to help the rest of the world, he is delusional in his idea that his work is for the greater good and wants to hunt Hugo down in order to best serve himself. That is why there are so many men on the streets hunting you down. The issue with Hugo is that due to brother and sister being kept apart for so long as Hugo was sick, they don’t really know each other. This adds a lovely depth to the story of the game as they both are getting to know each other. However, Hugo can be irritating at the best of times and does come across as a bit of a spoilt brat which started to annoy me a little. All he wants to do is to find his mum whilst Amicia tries to shield him from the awful truth of what has happened to her. Thankfully this was early on in the game and he does start to mature rather quickly, but doesnt stop him from constantly running off as well as a couple of tantrums.
Along the way, you do meet some great supporting characters helping you in your quest and they all work brilliantly. From the young Alchemist who was at his father’s side trying to help cure him of the plague who joins you on your journey, to a pair of orphan twins who help to explore the childhood themes of the game. Almost everyone you do meet is of a young age and have had to grow up extremely fast.
A game of this detail and beauty is a rare thing to find sometimes in the gaming world, especially when there is very little repetitive area gameplay. So many games have come along before where you will play through a particular area and then later on you revisit on numerous occasions. A Plague Tale avoids that as much as possible and I am truly grateful that the developers have made the decision not to be lazy like so many before them. For a first release from the studio, it’s certainly a game to be proud of.
The game is relatively easy to play through and complete, and the only challenge came in the last few chapters of the game for me. It started to get hard and fast, but after a short while it was easy to move on through areas of any difficulty. Oh, and just to prove that I did complete the game (as we know some review sites don’t before writing a review)..
All in all, the game is a true masterpiece. A harrowing tale of how two siblings who hardly know each other, tragically loose their parents and come together and fight on through all adversity thrown at them to bring an end to the plague which is wiping out civilization. It’s rare that I enjoy a rollercoaster of emotion so much as was presented to me within the storyline of this game.
I would have liked to have had slightly more challenge throughout the game rather than just in the later chapters, but for me A Plague Tale: Innocence is highly deserving of a 9/10. I’ve said it before and I will say it again; it is a visual and emotional masterpiece.
**PLEASE NOTE: AIR Entertainment were supplied with a review copy of the game. That has in no way influenced my review as per our Review Policy**